Motor City Madness tips off Friday in its new format. I still wish the Horizon League went to the Australian-football-inspired double elimination format, but this one works too.
It’s your regular 10-team format with the bottom four seeds taking part in a play-in round to narrow the field to eight teams for the quarterfinals. To protect the top two seeds, they play their quarterfinals on Saturday to get an extra day of rest before Monday’s semis, while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds play their quarterfinal games on Sunday.
(All times Eastern)
Friday, March 3 — First Round
Game 1: No. 7 Detroit vs. No. 10 Milwaukee, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Well, this must be a bummer for John Beilein. His former assistants Bacari Alexander (Detroit) and LaVall Jordan (Milwaukee) will have to face each other in each’s first conference tournament game as a head coach.
Detroit has a geographic advantage and was playing better basketball over the last few weeks. The Titans were also able to control the tempo in both regular season meetings with Milwaukee, and if they do that again on Friday I’m not sure the Panthers can keep up.
My pick: Detroit 80, Milwaukee 75
Game 2: No. 8 Cleveland State vs. No. 9 Youngstown State, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Jerry Slocum has not won a Horizon League Tournament game since 2013, and I don’t see that changing this year. After Saturday’s performance against Cleveland State, I’m not convinced the Penguins offense can score on the Vikings.
My pick: Cleveland State 65, Youngstown State 54
Saturday, March 4 — Quarterfinals Day 1
Game 3: No. 1 Oakland vs. Winner of Game 2, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Milwaukee and Detroit both played Oakland close in the regular season, but a big difference this time will be whoever faces the Golden Grizzlies will have just played a likely fast-paced game the night before.
I don’t see the Grizz having much problem extending their winning streak to 10 games, which would match their longest since the 2010-11 season when Keith Benson and Reggie Hamilton were in uniform.
My pick: Oakland 90, Detroit 73
Game 4: No. 2 Valparaiso vs. Winner of Game 1, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Well, player of the year Alec Peters is out for the season, and that puts a big dent in Valpo’s championship hopes. The Crusaders still have the players to win in Detroit, but it’s going to be significantly harder.
The only hope for Milwaukee or Cleveland State would be to dramatically slow down the tempo, but even in a game like that Valparaiso could easily win. They are 2-1 in games with 62 possessions or fewer this season.
My pick: Valparaiso 72, Cleveland State 58
Sunday, March 5 — Quarterfinals Day 2
Game 5: No. 3 Green Bay vs. No. 6 UIC, 5 p.m. (ESPN3)
This has the potential to be quite a fun one as the regular season meetings averaged 78.5 possessions and 165 points. Green Bay swept UIC, but both games came down to the final minutes.
UIC enters Motor City Madness with four straight losses while Green Bay has won three of four, but the Flames faced a much tougher schedule down the stretch.
So far I’ve gone chalk, but this where I think we get the first upset of this year’s tournament.
UIC should get a nice boost with point guard Godwin Boahen returning from an ankle injury.
My pick: UIC 88, Green Bay 86
Game 6: No. 4 Northern Kentucky vs. No. 5 Wright State, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
I think we’re going to get two exciting games on Sunday. Northern Kentucky swept the season series in two close matchups, and I think the Norse will finish off the Raiders again.
Wright State has been a solid defensive rebounding team this year, but Northern Kentucky has dominated the glass in their meetings. That could be the difference in what should be a tight game.
My pick: Northern Kentucky 78, Wright State 75
Monday, March 6 — Semifinals
Game 7: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 6, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
It’s not easy to hold Northern Kentucky under 1 point per possession, but Oakland has done it twice.
My pick: Oakland 80, Northern Kentucky 70
Game 8: Winner of Game 4 vs. Winner of Game 5, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
The door is open for UIC to make a run to Tuesday’s championship game, but I think they will fall just short against Peters-less Valpo.
Tevonn Walker has hurt the Flames in the past, as has Shane Hammink. The Flames will need to keep one of those two in check to have a chance, and that will be easier with Peters out.
Still, I think Valpo’s experience will help the Crusaders advance to the championship game in Matt Lottich’s first year as head coach.
My pick: Valparaiso 72, UIC 69
Tuesday, March 7 — Finals
Game 9: Winner of Game 7 vs. Winner of Game 8, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
In two head-to-head meetings, Oakland was clearly better than Valpo. And now the Crusaders won’t have their best player.
I hope Valpo is excited to defend its NIT championship.
My pick: Oakland 78, Valparaiso 64